Charging kids with crimes for sexting themselves to a fully consenting fellow kid always seemed excessive and cruel to me. This story is the reductio ad absurdum that settles the matter.
In Fayetteville, North Carolina, 17-year-old Cormega Copening and his girlfriend Brianna Denson, also 17, began exchanging naked photos of themselves in text messages when they were 16. They were the only ones who saw the pictures, but someone somehow tipped off local authorities, who searched Copening’s phone and discovered them.
Copeling and Denson were charged with sexual exploitation. The Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office concluded that Denson had committed two felony sex crimes...against herself. A warrant cited her as both the adult perpetrator and the minor victim of two counts of sexual exploitation of a minor, second-degree exploitation for making her photo and third-degree exploitation for having her own nude photo in her possession. A conviction could have put Denson in prison and would have required her to register as a sex offender for the rest of her life. Denson pleaded guilty to a lesser charge and was given 12 months of probation.
Her sexting partner Copening, however, is still facing as much as ten years prison time for two counts of second-degree sexual exploitation and three counts of third-degree exploitation. As with Denson, the third-degree charges arise out of the pictures Copening had of himself. That’s not the worst of the mind-twisting logic of this prosecution, however. North Carolina is one of two states in the country (the other: New York) that makes 16 the age of adulthood in the criminal system. The state’s consent laws consider anyone 16 and under a minor, but allows minors 16 or over to be charged as adults.
Gilbertian result: Copening is facing conviction, as an adult, for exploiting a minor—himself.
Getting into the spirit of the madness, the Fayetteville Observer published the names of the teens because it’s the paper’s policy to publish the names of “adults” such as Copening and Denson, charged with felony crimes. But the paper violated its policy by publishing the names of the minor victims—Copening and Denson.
It is obvious—isn’t it obvious?—that the child pornography laws that cause this kind of persecution were not intended for, designed for, or rationally applicable to sexting, which when it is consensual as in this case may be stupid, and may be a reckless, and may be something society should teach teens not to do, but should not involve life-destroyingl criminal charges and punishment. ( The charges against Copening already got him kicked off the football team at Jack Britt High School, where he had been the quarterback.) Imprisoning a teen for consensual sexting does more harm, by far, than the “crime” itself. Psychologist Jeff Temple of the University of Texas Medical Branch says that law enforcement applying such laws nationwide would result in “millions of kids being charged with child pornography.” His research and a 2014 study published by researchers at Drexel University in Pennsylvania found that 28% of teens have used their cell phones to send nude photos of themselves to other teens.
Interestingly, Copening and Denson could have happily screwed the night away together, and the day too, without getting so much as a fine. The age of consent for sexual activity in North Carolina is 16, and it is even less than that for teens who are less than four years apart in age. Sending and keeping photos of the same bodies involved (but looking flatter and smaller), however, makes them heinous, perverted criminals who will never be permitted in schools or near Boy Scout troops for the rest of their days.
The Sheriff’s Office lawyers and the Cumberland County District Attorney don’t care to debate the absurdity of this, and say their job is to enforce the law as written. No, their job is to enforce the law as written using their brains and sense of right and wrong to prevent a gross miscarriage of justice that will accomplish only harm and no good. Writes Above the Law’s “Techdirt”:
“At worst, the officers should have considered the context, the consensual nature and the lack of age discrepancy and did what the charging detective recommended — sending the teens home to their parents. If any discipline was needed for these actions, it’s well within the remand of their respective legal guardians, not the state that has decided people of a certain age aren’t allowed to own any part of themselves until the government says its OK.”
Pointer and Facts: Above the Law
Source: Fayetteville Observor